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Students returned yesterday from their Spring Break week and I think we all share a common shock that we can see the end of the semester ahead of us.  On the other hand, January seems so long ago.  Today, Student Stories writer Kaitlyn reports on her second semester in the MALD program, one in which she has tested her organizational abilities.

It is spring semester at Fletcher, and I am the equivalent of a “sophomore” in my MALD degree, with a quarter of the program behind me.  Naturally, I did the exact same thing with my class schedule that I did as an actual sophomore in undergraduate.

I thought too many classes were interesting and decided: Heck, I’ll just take them all.

Fletcher allows you to do two cool things: take an extra half-credit class once in your MALD program, and audit language classes next door at Tufts’ Olin Center.  I wanted to do an extra half credit now, so I could have an easier schedule next year when I do my capstone project.  And I wanted to audit a French class so I could have a bit more practice before my internship this summer.

When I scheduled my classes, I ended up finding three half-credit courses that looked interesting.  Those, plus French, left me with a schedule of seven classes for the semester: three full-semester classes at Fletcher, French, and three half-semester modules.  (Most people take only four or five classes each semester.)  All of my friends who saw my schedule looked at me like I had three heads.  I admit: it did become somewhat of a juggling act during midterms, but it was not half as bad as people assumed.  And a major reason I was able to manage that course load was organization.  I made two big decisions that made my semester go much smoother: I optimized my study space, and I planned each week so I could balance studying and free time.

My Study Space

During my first semester, I had my desk in my room, which wasn’t the best place to study.  I felt too comfortable to do work.  And then in my free time I was constantly looking at my desk, thinking about work.  So I was less productive and more stressed.  This semester, I decided I needed to change it up a bit.

Bless my roommate.  She was very accommodating and let me move my desk into the corner of our common room.  And she let me put up two calendars up on the bigger wall out there.  I had a dry-erase calendar for the month, and a huge weekly schedule of sticky-notes over the desk.  This helped me develop a really organized study routine.  Every Sunday I wrote down the new weekly schedule, and each morning I could check both calendars as I walked out the door.  It was much more efficient for me than leafing through a weekly planner that often got lost in my backpack.  Having a clear separation of my work and my study space also meant I was more productive when I studied.  And it meant I got to leave my school work — even my laptop — in a different room at the end of the day.  That helped me feel more relaxed in my free time.

A Balanced Week

Every week, I had an average of three classes a day, Monday to Thursday.  And starting in March I had one class on Fridays, too.  It meant that generally, I had readings to do every night.  That was a long week by anyone’s standards and I knew I needed to make sure I didn’t get burned out.  So I had one goal: plan one night off in the middle of the week.  I found that it made me more productive when I had something to look forward to, and it was a great way to make sure I could go to extracurricular events: Social Hour on Thursdays; 101 discussions on historical issues that the Student Council organized; and parties hosted by other Fletcher folks.  The best one was the celebration of China’s Spring Festival that my roommate helped organize in February.  I planned my week around that party, and had time to bake a cake for it, too.

I also had to get creative about my study time.  Mondays, when I had four classes, even working at my reorganized desk was a struggle.  So I got off campus.  Davis Square is a lovely 20-minute walk from Fletcher and it has great coffee shops, perfect for getting my class readings done after my long Monday schedule.  There is also Mugar Café in the Fletcher building, which became my go-to place to study between classes.  It’s also close to everything, which was excellent for taking study breaks to head to on-campus events.  My favorite event was the Puppy Kissing booth that Ginn Library hosted for Valentine’s day.  (Nothing is better for productivity than spending time with a puppy.  Fact.)

All in all, managing my seven classes is just as much about my study time as it is about my non-study time.  I love all my classes, and though I’ll happily not take so many in future semesters, I don’t regret the packed schedule in the slightest.

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Mariya is one of the busiest students I know, which makes me lucky that she continues to write for the Admissions Blog.  And not only is she busy, but she’s busy in varied international locations.  Today we’ll read about her fall and winter travels.

Hello readers, and belated Happy New Year!  My fall semester ended with reflections, and this semester, too, begins with reflections.  As I think about all the opportunities I have had at Fletcher, I cannot help but be grateful for so many unique experiences.  To give you a sense of the types of opportunities Fletcher students can pursue during their time here, I would like to highlight two international experiences that have broadened my academic horizons.

Presenting a paper in London

In November, I presented my paper titled “Religious Roots of American Democracy” at the “Democracy and Rule of Law” conference at the University of Westminster in London.  My paper explores the role of religion in the founding and shaping of American democracy and politics.  There were about 15 other scholars of different ages who traveled from all over the world (India, Turkey, Serbia, Italy, Canada, Poland, to name a few) to meet in this intellectual forum, share their research, and solicit feedback.  I was impressed by the diversity of topics presented at the conference.  A German scholar, for example, gave a presentation about heavy metal screaming as a form of cultural resistance and freedom of expression.  A practicing lawyer talked about the principle of legality in the EU’s economic crisis management as it related to Greece’s recession.  And a research fellow shared his paper on whether an Italian law was capable of guaranteeing the rights of beggars against the will of the majority.  I was the only American in the group and my presentation on religion in democracy drew numerous questions.

Although intended mainly for the scholars who would later refine their papers for journal publication by the Center for the Study of International Peace and Security, which hosted the conference, the event was open to the public.  In fact, I met a couple from France who approached me afterward to say they enjoyed my presentation and we engaged in a lengthy dialogue contrasting our countries’ religious freedom laws.  My time in London was very short — literally two full days — but it was nice to connect with my Fletcher scholarship donor, Kate Hedges, who kindly showed me pockets of the city a tour bus would have skipped.  I squeezed in a few touristy excursions before catching a flight back.

While my paper will not be published until April, check out my op-ed published in the Kennedy School Review about the role of religion in the public eye.

Learning Middle Eastern politics in Beirut

In January, after completing a half-credit “J-term” (January course) on lobbying at the Harvard Kennedy School, I flew to Lebanon for the weeklong Beirut Exchange Program.  Nadim Shehadi, director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, encouraged me to apply to this opportunity, given my regional interests in Middle Eastern politics.  A group of 12 professionals from around the world engaged with politicians, journalists, and civil society activists to get an in-depth picture of Lebanese politics.  With the upcoming election in May and the changed electoral law, politicians and Lebanese citizens alike wait with anticipation the unfolding future of their country.  It was fascinating to hear different perspectives on sectarian political representation, Palestinian and Syrian refugee crises, and Lebanon’s 2006 war as it relates to regional geopolitics.

The agenda was jam-packed with lectures, workshops, and a day trip to Tripoli, an hour north of the capital.  There was little time for tourism, but a group of us took advantage of our evenings to explore the downtown nightlife, admire the close proximity of mosques and churches, and indulge in delicious Lebanese cuisine.  I fell in love with the creamy hummus, fresh tabbouleh and perfectly seasoned moutabbal (also known as baba ganoush, an eggplant dip mixed with tahini).  And as always happens on all my international trips, I met a Fletcher alum in the program!  A middle-aged media commentator from Pakistan studied under the same capstone advisor as me: Professor Richard Shultz.

Both of these international experiences were incredible, and would not have been possible without generous support from the Fletcher Educational Enrichment Fund, the Graduate Travel Support Program of the Provost’s Office, the Dean’s Fund, and various campus institutes.  I feel incredibly grateful and blessed to be at a place like Fletcher where students are supported in the opportunities that knock their doors.

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We’re going to close out the fall semester updates with Akshobh’s report on his semester and how it met his expectations.

Outside Blakeley Hall

I had been forewarned that nothing can truly prepare you for a New England Winter.  In my previous post, I wrote about how, after seven years of living on the equator, the only weather I had experienced oscillated between rain or no rain.  In Singapore, where I lived for seven years, it was summer throughout the year.  December 17th or June 6th made no difference — t-shirts and shorts were the norm.  The closest I had come to see snow was in an indoor mall in Dubai.  (My New Englander friends have told me that doesn’t count.)

On December 9th, on a snooze-filled Saturday morning, I woke up to see something miraculous outside Blakeley Hall — the winter’s first snow.  Yet I had half expected a tepid response to something seasonally expected from many who grew up around snow.

Much to my surprise, even friends who grew up around snow showed the same alacrity to be outside as I did.  The first day of snow is, indeed, quite mesmerizing.  My fellow blogger, Kaitlyn, a native New Englander, describes winter as her favorite season.  (It seems like it will take more than three decades of snowy winters to change her mind.)

In front of Blakeley Hall with fellow bloggers Prianka (right) and Kaitlyn (far right).

There are many perks to living in Blakeley Hall.  The stellar ones are the value for money in terms of rent and the bonhomie you forge among the seventy-odd residents – if Fletcher is about community, Blakeley is a microcosm.  But most of all, for folks like me who are used to tropical habitat, the commute from Blakeley to Fletcher is only seventy steps away.  The short commute is the biggest asset in Boston’s blistering blizzards.

Sitting away from the snowfall in Atlanta, Georgia during the winter break gave me a good chance to reflect on a first semester that whizzed by.  Going back to the classroom after years in the newsroom was always going to be hard.  But what kind of a program am I in and what sort of people does Fletcher attract and what sort of careers result?

The MALD is no doubt esoteric; after all, it is truly one of a kind.  And safe to say that there is no cookie-cutter MALD candidate, since unlike other degrees (say an MBA, JD or an MD), a MALD is truly malleable, and can be shaped to work for one’s self in a manner like no other.

At Fletcher, pick any world issue or geographic region, and I guarantee you will find either a professor who is expert on the subject, or a student who is studying that particular issue, or someone who is from the region or has worked there: from understanding food security in Malawi, to exploring how blockchain can be used to solve problems in healthcare, to considering the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, to the security threats arising out of asymmetric warfare in the South Asia.  Perhaps the words Law & Diplomacy in the acronym MALD, don’t quite capture the intellectual depth and expertise the school has to offer.  It’s not surprising when you and your roommate, both in the MALD program, could discover that in the whole two years — four full semesters — you’ve never been in the same class.

My focus at Fletcher is to be at the nexus of geo-politics and geo-economics, for I feel foreign policy and business are no longer two disparate entities but the common portion of a Venn diagram.  Governments and businesses can no longer ignore each other, for global political events affect economic outcomes.

In short, my goal at Fletcher is to understand a country’s tale (history & foreign policy) and how companies scale (business).

Hence my first semester saw me take a mix of classes, including National Security Decision Making: Theory and Practice, traditionally for the security junkies and foreign policy wonks, as well as Starting New Ventures (where I was one of only three first-year students, in a predominantly second-year MIB class) dealing with cases about entrepreneurs and the challenges they face.  There are few places and few programs that offer such an eclectic mix.

Interviewing Harvard academic Joseph Nye for the Fletcher Security Review.

My interests drew me to partake in events such as Simulex, where I was the Director of National Intelligence for the U.S in a Fletcher-wide simulation also featuring China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan handling an East Asia Crisis.  I interviewed leading Harvard academic Joseph Nye on soft power for the Fletcher Security Review, had lunch with Lord Michael Dobbs, discussing political leaders, and attended guest lectures from two four-star generals.

Meanwhile my interest in economic affairs led me to organize and moderate a panel on President Trump’s trade policies titled “Trump: Trade & Tirade.”  In addition, two other Fletcher students and I were selected to attend the World Bank Youth Summit in Washington, DC, which focused on Technology and Innovation for Impact.

With (right) Christina Saas, F09 (MALD), Co-Founder of Andela and TingTing Yang, F14 (MIB), a World Bank employee.

Fletcher’s global influence was evinced when at the World Bank in DC.  Every time we unfurled the Fletcher flag, we found an alumnus at the bank who came up to us and said, “Hey, I went to Fletcher, too.”  It’s almost as if the Fletcher flag was our business card.

Looking back, the decision to take the plunge and return to school was never easy.  I had friends and family who were divided on the issue of my giving up a stable income and taking a hiatus from the working world.  The camps were split, so much so that I facetiously say that it became a Brexit decision: there was a “Stay Camp” (don’t quit your job and move halfway around the world) and a “Go Camp” (take the plunge, it’ll be worth it).

An investment banker friend asked me how I could justify paying tuition and foregoing two years of income.  To which I replied that when I walk into the Hall of Flags and see all the illustrious alumni names on the wall of this hallowed institution, I am reminded that I am going to school with peers who will rise similarly to the highest echelons of government, become future diplomats, and serve their country’s military.  And I will have sat right beside them while their intellectual moorings took hold.

So how can I put a dollar value on that experience?

With a Fletcher classmate, outside the White House.

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Continuing the student bloggers’ fall-semester recaps, Prianka reports on her first semester and some of the special activities open to students in the LLM program.

One semester down and just one more to go.  Saying that time flies would be an understatement.  The last semester was definitely challenging, but in all honesty, had it been anything short of challenging, I would have questioned whether I was doing something wrong!  Being the first Admissions blogger from the LLM program, I thought I would talk about my experiences thus far at Fletcher.

Fletcher’s LLM program is not a traditional LLM program.  The most obvious difference is that Fletcher is an international affairs school and, by virtue of the same, the courses on offer are not restricted to legal subjects but are also in economics, international business, diplomacy, history and politics.  How does one pick just eight courses?  And if that weren’t enough, Fletcher students also have the option of taking courses at Harvard University.  This has its positives and negatives — definitely more to choose from, but it often makes me feel like a kid in a candy store on a budget!  Despite being happy with my four carefully selected different types of candy, I still wonder whether I would have been happier with one of the other candies, particularly one of them that seems to be selling out fast.

Looking back at some of the main reasons I decided to study at Fletcher — the number of students enrolled in the program, the interdisciplinary nature of the course, the presence of faculty in the area of law that I was interested in — I consider that I was right in my reasoning.  These are also some of the factors that differentiate the LLM program at Fletcher from the LLM program from a law school.

The education that one gains from a graduate school experience is not restricted to the courses on offer but also from conferences and guest lectures.  Being part of an international affairs school, we’ve had a number of prominent personalities deliver lectures, including the current Croatian President, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and others described in previous blog postsThe LLM program also organizes High Table lunches based on, to a certain extent, the particular interests of the current student cohort.  Last semester we had the opportunity to hear from Mr. Alberto Mora and Dr. Lynn Kuok, F04, at High Table lunches.  While Mr. Mora spoke about the legality of enhanced interrogation techniques, with Dr. Kuok we discussed competing national, legal, and political interests in the South China Sea.  The High Table lunches are quite exclusive and intimate, with only the LLM students and the law faculty in attendance.

Another interesting event that the LLM program participated in was an International Law Weekend in New York.  Not only was this an opportunity for some of us to visit New York for the first time, but we also attended discussions over the course of two days on the theme of “International Law in Challenging Times.”  With each of us having interests in varied fields of law, the event had a little something for all.

Last but not least, we also have dinners hosted every now and then that give us the opportunity to get to know each other, and to interact with the law faculty in a more informal setting.  In the first few weeks after we began our Fletcher journey, Professor Antonia Chayes hosted a dinner for the LLM batch to meet each other as well as the law faculty.  Towards the end of the semester, Professor Burgess and his wife hosted a holiday party at their home.  The dinner was a nice end to the semester, but left me personally grappling with the fact that I was half way through my LLM journey.  I remember back in Orientation week keeping an eye out for students with red LLM folders amongst the sea of 200 students carrying black MALD folders; seeing all the red folders in one place was comforting, particularly in the first few days when everything seemed unfamiliar!

This brings me to my bucket list, described in my first post.  Nearly four months gone, a couple of check marks in and a couple of new additions to the list.  I did go for my first Black Friday sale but, most disappointingly, didn’t stand in a queue to get in or even wait in a line to check out, but did leave with more bags than I anticipated!  I also did buy my first lottery ticket but, sadly, lady luck wasn’t on my side that day.  Building a snowperson still remains on the list and, by my next post, I hope that I check it off.  A couple of new additions to my bucket list are to go for an ice hockey game and, if I can muster up the courage, to go ice skating.  After a couple of falls just walking in the snow, I’m very wary of going on the ice!

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Before he wrote this fall-semester update, Pulkit asked me whether he could describe some challenges he experienced.  That seemed like a great topic to me.  Fletcher students work hard!  And the Admissions Committee needs to ensure that every admitted student will succeed.  Pulkit’s reflection captures nicely the balance that all students seek and the particular challenges faced by folks who are looking for an academic or career shift.

As I sat down to write my last post before the end of 2017, I couldn’t fathom that I was about to finish three semesters at Fletcher.  Since the day I received my letter of acceptance, it has been an exciting and rewarding journey of self-discovery.

Fletcher has given me opportunities to push myself to give my best, both inside and outside of the classroom.  Apart from my regular academic work, a large portion of my semester was spent working as an elected Student Council representative.  As a student representative, I ensured that I was hearing and giving voice to the concerns and suggestions of the student body.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Office of Student Affairs, other administrative offices, and other student representatives to find constructive and sustainable solutions to issues related to student life and community at Fletcher.  That being said, this role had its own set of challenges — including decision making, coalition building, and receiving criticism.

Israeli-Palestine Dinner hosted by Mahmoud, Heba, Yair, Yonathan, and Jules.

The other big commitment last semester was serving as the Managing Director for Digital and External Affairs for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.  Apart from managing a team of staff editors and The Forum’s web page, along with the executive leadership, early efforts for this academic year included creating a new section of the website for student publications.  The idea is to provide a platform for students to publish the stellar work they are doing in their classes, for their capstones, and otherwise.  In addition, fellow Admissions blogger, Mariya, and I also facilitated a peer-to-peer learning series in partnership with the Murrow Center and Ginn Library.  At Fletcher, my peers are amazingly skilled in soft and hard skills.  To that effect we wanted to create learning opportunities for our fellow students and organized hands-on skill-based workshops in blogging, website design, and citations editing.

Reciting poetry at Open Mic Night.

Speaking of academics, my evolving interests also drove me to take more classes in the International Law and Organizations and Diplomacy, History and Politics divisions and study a mix of Human Security and Humanitarian Studies courses.

After three semesters, I can’t help but also reflect on some of the challenges I have faced along the way, and I wanted to share some of those thoughts with readers.  As I had mentioned in my first post back in November 2016, coming from a physical sciences background, it was indeed a huge step for me as I transitioned to pursue studies in social sciences.  Most classes at the graduate level — at Fletcher and at Harvard — involve a large amount of reading.  With four classes, it became overwhelming to finish all the readings for a week.  I found myself challenged to finish my assigned homework in time, especially with all the extra-curricular activities I was involved in.  This was also a big change from what I was used to in the past, as most professors require us to finish the readings before a class.

Most of the classes are also discussion-based where students debate — be it on a particular article of international law and its potential implications on the ground or on a matter of policy.  One of the significant challenges I encountered was having an opinion on issues that were gray.  Before starting school, I had expected that solutions to complex world problems could be black and white.  Very quickly I learned that there could be multiple perspectives to and interpretations of a problem.  I also realized why it was so very important to understand all sides of an argument before making conclusions, and — unlike math or physics — even if there was no conclusion or final answer, it was okay.  In many of my classes I have been left with more questions than answers.  As one student put it — perhaps that is what graduate school is all about, to have more questions than answers, but also to have the ability to ask the right questions.

Another element of a professional graduate program is networking.  Fletcher has provided me numerous opportunities to meet and interact with illustrious alumni and important persons in the field of international relations.  But it has not been easy to feel comfortable at networking — building relationships with different professors, attending conferences and reaching out to folks working in the areas of my interest.  This again, was not something I was used to.  With a little bit of self-encouragement and push from my peers, I try improving and being better at it.

Besides managing my time, finishing my homework and fulfilling my extra-curricular roles, these are interesting challenges to have and to look forward to.  Overall, in retrospect, from taking classes across different disciplines with different professors, to learning about and from my classmates, and participating in activities on and off campus, my time at Fletcher has been such a joy and a life-altering experience.

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Today we’ll hear from Gary, our Student Stories blogger in the PhD program, who will return to the U.S. Marine Corps after he completes his Fletcher studies.  Though I’ve often watched as a parade of limousines and police cars escort a dignitary to Fletcher, I had never thought about the behind-the-scenes efforts to make the visit happen, and I’ve learned something from Gary’s post!

One of the great benefits of being a student at Fletcher is the visits of many senior officials and policymakers.  This includes not only leaders from the diplomatic, political, and business realms but also senior military leaders.  For my service, the U.S. Marine Corps, the fall semester saw a “bumper crop” of such visits.  During October and November, the International Security Studies Program (ISSP) hosted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Fletcher alumnus General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. (the senior uniformed officer in the entire U.S. Armed Forces); the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller (the senior officer in my service); and Lieutenant General David Berger, the commander of the largest field command in the service, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.  Between them, these three officers brought more than 120 years of combined service in the Marine Corps to the table.  However, I’m not going to talk about what they presented during their visits — in part because two of the lectures took place at ISSP luncheons, which are conducted off-the-record — but instead I’ll take a look “behind the scenes” at what goes into making a visit for one of these senior military officers happen.  (The Boston Globe carried an article about General Dunford’s visit here.)

ISSP Fellows with Dr. Shultz and General Dunford, November 14, 2017. (Gary is second from the right.)

General Dunford and his former professor, Richard Shultz, and the ISSP lecture.

As one might expect, a great deal of coordination typically goes into a visit by a senior leader.  Planning begins months in advance.  ISSP mails out the official invitations.  For last semester’s visits, this step took place before I even arrived on campus in September.  After that, suffice it to say that there are a lot of emails exchanged and phone calls placed to work out visit itineraries, menus, locations where people can change from civilian clothes to uniforms or vice versa, and more.  Sometimes the group emails a questionnaire with the questions they need answered for their planning process to move forward.  If one of the senior officers is arriving via nearby Hanscom Air Force Base, then there are additional considerations involving the base protocol officer, base operations, and so on.  If they arrive via Logan Airport, there is a different set of considerations.  There is local coordination for security and ground transportation.  For an ISSP fellow designated as the AO (“action officer”) for a visit, one of the key things to learn right away is the key contacts on the visitor’s staff — it might be more than one person.

For ISSP military fellows (who spend a year at Fletcher on a non-degree basis), coordinating these visits provides an opportunity to interact with the “brain trusts” behind the senior leaders.  Depending on where they are, these groups have different names — Action Group, Staff Group, etc. — but are composed of some of the sharpest young officers in the ranks.  For General Neller and General Berger, their teams consisted entirely of Marines, but General Dunford’s staff features officers from across the services and some Department of Defense civilians.  These organizations house planners, subject-matter experts, advisors, and speechwriters.  In addition to the planning groups, the senior military officers also have aides de camp in charge of coordinating logistics and other general-purpose matters.  It can end up being a pretty large retinue of folks when all is said and done — half a dozen people, or more.

After completing their studies, Fletcher graduates in uniform can end up working in these commander’s groups, based on their developed skills in diplomacy and negotiation, oral and written communication, and statecraft.  For example, the director of General Berger’s Commander’s Action Group, LtCol Sea Thomas, attended Fletcher immediately upon graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.  (He was a MALD classmate of Fletcher Professor Rocky Weitz!)  On General Dunford’s Chairman’s Action Group, LtCol Todd Manyx (ISSP Commandant of the Marine Corps Fellow in 2007-08) serves as a special assistant, and Army COL Abigail Linnington, who holds a Ph.D. from Fletcher (2013), is the director of the organization.  From the outside looking in, these groups appear to do meaningful, relevant work directly for senior leaders whose voices count.

General Neller engages in a small-group discussion with military officers after his November 28, 2017 ISSP luncheon.

It was a great professional honor for me to meet and interact with these three senior Marine Corps leaders. It is not all that often that a mid-grade officer such as me has the chance to meet top leaders.  I had served with General Berger previously in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005, so it was great to catch up with him now that he has ascended to near the pinnacle of his profession. During General Dunford’s visit, Professor Hess did me the great honor of providing an introduction to the general, and we spoke briefly, comparing our experiences as Marine Corps fellows at Fletcher.  However, the highlight for me was riding with General Neller from the airport to Fletcher, ostensibly as the “on-site lead,” bringing the senior officer up to speed on the “lay of the land” before he steps out of the vehicle and begins the luncheon event.  That did happen, but I also had the chance to chat with my service’s top officer about family, hopes for future assignments, and challenges and opportunities for the Corps.  That’s not something that happens every day — except maybe at Fletcher!

When high-level visits happen, things can get pretty exciting.  You must remain flexible when things change, sometimes even as the visit is already in progress, such as if a flight is delayed and you need to adjust the agenda in real time dynamically.  But once the visits end, things return to normal fairly quickly.  Then it’s back to classes — until the next visit!

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Continuing to catch up with our student bloggers following the fall semester, today we’ll hear from Adi, who is now one semester from completing the MIB program.

Now that I have officially finished the fall semester, I can reflect on what happened, while also looking ahead to my final semester at Fletcher.  What was particularly different compared to my first year at Fletcher was the feeling of freedom and flexibility in choosing my courses.  With most of my MIB core requirements out of the way, I see way less of MIB classmates whom I saw pretty much every day last year, while meeting new students and even fellow second years whom I never met until this semester.  (Surprising as that is, it does happen.)  My second year is all about electives.  I do have one more requirement, but I have decided to push that to my final semester.  So, my fall schedule was completely of my choosing.  I ended up enrolling in the Art and Science of Statecraft with Professor Drezner, Processes of International Negotiations with Professor Babbitt, Large Investment and International Project Finance with Professor Uhlmaan, and Petroleum in the Global Economy with Professor Everett.  Overall, I thought it was a fantastic mix of finance, markets, politics, and hard and soft skills, with topics that complemented each other surprisingly well.

MIBs at the Januarian graduation. (Adi is third from the right.)

My Fields of Study at Fletcher are International Banking and Finance as well as International Political Economy (IPE).  Project Finance and Petroleum both fit my IPE Field of Study, although I think even if they didn’t, I would still have taken these two courses out of curiosity and interest.  Negotiations could have satisfied my DHP requirement, but I already had a DHP course, so I took the course purely out of recognition of the importance of being an exceptional negotiator in whatever professional path I end up pursuing.  Statecraft was taken out of curiosity.  After all, Fletcher is a school of diplomacy, and Professor Drezner is one of the better-known names not just in the school, but in his field of expertise.

In the end, the courses were a great mix.  The cases discussed in Project Finance were fantastic, ranging from aluminum mines in Mozambique to stadium public financing for the Dallas Cowboys.  Petroleum was definitely an eye-opener into just how deeply ingrained petroleum is in the fabric of today’s society.  I may not agree with every single perspective presented in the class, especially on the topic of petroleum’s impact on climate change (understanding Professor Everett spent years at Exxon-Mobil), but it is definitely exciting to hear a well-structured and logical argument that is counter to what I am accustomed to hearing.  The two projects from Negotiation gave me the opportunity to dig deep and analyze the discussions between Indonesia and Freeport, operator of the biggest goldmine in the world.  Finally, in what other class but Statecraft with Professor Drezner would you have a simulation on how countries are supposed to react in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

Thus, my suggestion for future MIB students trying to figure out what to take for their electives is to take the best courses Fletcher has to offer.  Obviously, try to get any required courses out the way (in the first year if possible).  I would highly recommend the four courses that I took this semester, but your interests may not be the same as mine.  I only suggest that you not limit yourself to business courses at Fletcher.  For MIBs, our distinguishing quality compared to MBA graduates is Fletcher’s non-business courses, whether in law, security, or even gender studies.  Recognizing that these are courses that reflect Fletcher expertise would translate to us being equipped with knowledge and skills that make us unique and competitive in the job market, even as we seek MBA-type positions in consulting, investment banking, or multinational corporations.  Plus, I personally find it interesting to learn about something totally outside my main area of study — it enriches the learning process.

I think many Fletcher students agree that we came here wanting an education that would give us a multidisciplinary perspective.  Thus, at some point in our studies, we need to take a course that is the best Fletcher has to offer, slightly disregarding whether the topic is what we intend to build a career in.  I don’t plan to have a career in conflict resolution or policymaking (although never say never), but I am confident that skills from courses on negotiations and statecraft will come in handy, even if I do pursue a career in financial services as I plan to right now.

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The second student blogger end-of-semester wrap-up comes from Kaitlyn, who like many of her fellow students, appreciates a busy schedule.

This first semester, especially the second half, was a whirlwind of activity.  It had never felt so bizarre as when I passed in my last final exam and stepped outside the doors of Fletcher to realize there was nothing else on the day’s — or the week’s — itinerary.  After four months of non-stop activity it was nice to stroll across campus in the crisp winter air and soak in the relief that everything, for now, was done.  At the same time I felt restless.  Having an open itinerary might be refreshing to some, but my natural mode is to be busy.  Hence, as soon as exams were done: I baked chocolate cake for my classmates so we could all celebrate, finished the puzzle we’ve all been working on in the Ginn Library, and then sat down to write this blog post.  The principle topic on my mind was reflection: how did I feel after one semester?  What were my resolutions going into the next one?

Reflections:

1. It is okay to explore a lot of Fields of Study – and it’s easier than I thought.

At the beginning of the semester, surrounded by many peers who were already firmly established in their careers, it was tempting to think that I should have a very clear idea of the Fields of Study I wanted to focus on, and the specific classes I wanted to take.

And then I talked to more second years.

The advice I got from them ranged from: “don’t worry about Fields of Study — just take whatever looks interesting,” to “take one that will get you a job and one that is for fun.”

I’m too much of a planner to like the first option, but the middle ground between the two is one that suits me well: plan one, and give myself the freedom to build the second one based on what’s most interesting.  There are plenty of opportunities to explore different subjects, even with only 16 credits in the MALD program.  Auditing courses, attending special events, and talking to peers and professors are all ways my fellow first years and I have found to explore Fields of Study that didn’t fit in our schedules.  There’s also always that one class that takes you completely by surprise – as was the case for me and Art & Science of Statecraft.  I took it because it fulfilled a breadth requirement and looked the most interesting.  Turns out, it was my favorite class from my first semester!  I’ll be taking the follow up course in the spring.  I am not sure it will be part of a Field of Study, but if my experience in education has taught me anything, it is that following my interests is the most rewarding way to go.

2. Fletcher’s community really is the best.

I cannot emphasize enough how much everyone supports each other.  It is much different than undergrad; here everyone is equally passionate about their courses and equally invested in the quality of their work.  My study groups worked well together for the first time in my life, and I had my first good (actually amazing) experience with a group project in “Gender, Culture, and Conflict.”

And outside classes, our community in Fletcher’s dorm has become very close knit: we organized movie nights during exams, celebrated birthdays, and organized “Blakeley chats,” where our peers could give mini-presentations about their work and their experiences.  By far the high point of my semester was one of these community moments: Medford had its first snow just before finals started.  And my excitement and celebration over that was exponentially more memorable and special because I could share it with my friends and fellow bloggers (shout out Akshobh and Prianka) for whom it was a “first snow.”

 

Resolutions

1. Garder plus du temps pour pratiquer le Français

I worked hard this semester on reading and writing French.  I reached the point where I could do both without translating back to English, a proficiency goal I never thought I’d reach.  Next year I’ll take the oral half of my French proficiency exam and (security clearance pending) have an internship in Paris this summer.  Thus, my second resolution is to invest more time into practicing my conversation skills — by taking advantage of the language courses offered at Tufts’ Olin Center and carefully planning my spring classes around a French audit.

2. Get More Involved!

There’s never time to do everything that’s going on at Fletcher.  I didn’t try too hard to do so while adjusting to the rigors of grad school.  With my first semester over, my most important resolution for 2018 is to add more activities to my schedule: get more involved with clubs, attend more events, and buy a giant paper calendar to better plan my job and classwork around events.

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With the fall semester behind us, the Admissions Blog Student Stories writers are starting to report in.  Today we’ll hear from Mariya, who kept herself more than busy throughout the semester.

Hello readers!  It has been a while since I last wrote.  Let me take a moment to update you about my life at Fletcher.  Traditional wisdom has it that your third semester at Fletcher is the hardest — this has certainly been true in my case.

For me this year has been about change.  Physically, I moved into new, smaller apartment two streets over from my previous home, and acquired two lovely roommates: Riya, an old friend from last year; and Misaki, a first-year student from the Japanese Foreign Ministry.  Academically, I decided to switch up my security and diplomatic history courses with finance and investment courses.  Thanks to the flexibility of a Fletcher curriculum, doing so was no problem. And personally, I am making conscious efforts for self-care, including making time for mindfulness and spirituality.  I am grateful to the Tufts Chaplaincy and Fletcher’s meditation room, which have facilitated this growth.  Change is often stressful, but for me, it has been refreshing and beautiful.

Earlier this semester, Fletcher alumnus and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford came to campus for a talk.  He said something that particularly resonated with me.  “To be successful,” he said, “surround yourself with good people.”  As I reflect on my fall semester, I feel grateful to be surrounded by good people who share my passions, challenge and motivate me, and make me appreciate the Fletcher community all the more.

Here’s a list of activities that have pushed me to new horizons — I hope it gives you a flavor for what a busy second-year MALD student looks like.

♦ Competing in a research challenge. Four peers and I submitted a 22-page report resulting from eight weeks of research, interviews, and model valuation for a medical device company as part of the Boston CFA Research Challenge.  Thanks to Professor Patrick Schena and mentor Cameron for their guidance and expertise.  We’re hoping to advance to finals like last year’s team!

♦ Serving as a TA.  I welcomed the quintessential graduate student experience: serving as the teaching assistant for an undergraduate course called “Peace Through Entrepreneurship,” taught by Fletcher alumnus Steven Koltai.  It has been an absolute pleasure working with and learning from both the professor and the highly motivated students.  One of my favorite moments from class is teaching economic development theory.

♦ Staying hopeful. Former U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra and now Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont sat down with Fletcher’s State Department Fellows (Rangel, Pickering, and Payne) and shared his experiences and advice.  His wisdom gave us hope to continue our chosen paths in diplomacy.

♦ Sharing ideas.  I am so proud of the Fletcher Islamic Society for hosting a number of impactful events this fall, including an ISSP luncheon with Fletcher alumnus Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Aizaz Chaudhry, a guest lecture on the Palestinian Diaspora, a panel discussion about intersectionality and diversity in the Muslim community at the Gender Conference, and most recently, a community dialogue on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

♦ Interviewing leaders. What a privilege to sit down with Ambassador Chaudhry and with Sean Callahan, CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and interview them for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.

♦ Role playing.  “Representing” the Chinese defense ministry, I helped my team devise a strategy to effectively respond to the hypothetical unfolding crisis on the Korean Peninsula for this year’s SIMULEX.

♦ Exchanging perspectives.  My “U.S.-Russia Relations” course, which Skypes with students at MGIMO university in Moscow, has given me an appreciation for the Russian perspective on world affairs.  It was great fun to moderate a panel on the “Instability in the Middle East and the Threat from Radical Jihadism” at the Fletcher-MGIMO Conference on U.S.-Russia Relations.

♦ Learning from professionals.  In Professor Michele Malvesti’s “National Security Decision Making” course, it was an honor to be in the presence of high-profile individuals who came to class as guest speakers to share their knowledge with us.  We had the privilege to learn from General Tony Thomas (Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command); Mr. Thomas Shankar (Assistant Washington Editor of the New York Times); The Honorable Derek Chollet (Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs); and The Honorable Nicholas Rasmussen (Director of the National Counterterrorism Center).

♦ Leading a workshop.  Recognizing the importance of professionally marketing ideas, Pulkit and I led a “Blogging and Website Design Workshop” supported by the Ginn Library and the Murrow Center.

♦ Celebrating Diwali.  Dressed in salwar kameez, saris, and kurtas, Fletcher folks came together to celebrate Diwali, Hindu festival of lights.

♦ Meeting a celebrity.  It was inspiring to learn about Michael Dobbs’ path from Fletcher to the House of Lords.  He was on campus for a two-week stint, teaching a leadership workshop, engaging in lectures and debates, and meeting students one-on-one.

♦ Cruising the Boston Harbor.  Thanks to a classmate’s friend, about twenty of us enjoyed a BBQ lunch on a cruise boat in the Boston Harbor.  What fun!

♦ Sharing my experiences.  My summer in Bangkok affected me in more ways than one.  After reflecting on my faith journey, I decided to share my poem “Return to Spirituality” at the Winter Recital in the Goddard Chapel earlier this month.

♦ Enjoying a home-cooked meal. There is no replacement for the intimacy and the deep connection that is shared when someone invites you to their home.  Thanks to the lovely Airokhsh for hosting a delicious Afghan meal for 15 or so of her female friends and allowing us to take a break from the hustle and bustle of student life.

♦ Organizing a Trek.  Much of my energy was devoted to organizing the first-ever Fletcher Pakistan Trek.  Though the trip won’t, in the end, take place, the leadership team and I worked hard to raise funds, design a robust itinerary of meetings and outings, coordinate with local contacts, and work within the school guidelines to make this opportunity available for 10 classmates.

♦ Presenting in London.  More details coming in the next post!

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The final new Student Stories introduction comes from Akshobh, who started the MALD program in September after a journalism career.  Akshobh is a regular presence in the Admissions Office, conducting interviews for us each Friday.

In front of the Singapore skyline in my last week in the city state.

Leaving Singapore was excruciatingly hard!

I grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai), India and moved to Singapore fresh out of journalism school, knowing few people and precious little about the city state.

It then became home for seven amazing years, in two different journalism jobs, first with ESPN STAR Sports, and then as a business news reporter and producer with Channel NewsAsia (part of MediaCorp) the largest PAN-Asian English news broadcast channel in the region.

I often say that my career in journalism was a serendipitous affair.

The final 18 selected from India – I am third from the right in the second row.

I inadvertently stumbled into the auditions of ESPN STAR’s nationwide hunt for a presenter — through a show called Dream Job.  The winner of the program would be offered a one-year contract as a sports presenter.  I was short-listed in the final 18 among 100,000 applicants.  As one of the final 18, I would go through several televised rounds of high-level sports quizzes and debates, conduct mock interviews, and host mock sports bulletins in front of an elite panel of judges.  Each episode was broadcast on the network’s leading channel and beamed right into the homes of people across India.

Through the show, I realized I wanted to get into broadcast journalism and applied to journalism school.  One of the internships I pursued was with the same host network — my boss happened to be one of the judges who had seen me on the show and he offered me an internship in Singapore.  On completing a two-month internship, I was offered a full-time job for after my final semester in journalism school.

Interviewing Feon Ang, Vice President of LinkedIn, Singapore.

After a few years with a sports broadcast network, I segued to working for Channel NewsAsia as a business news reporter and producer.

I covered news pertaining to Singapore’s economy, and interviewed economists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and policy makers across a gamut of industries.  I soon realized that I was fortunate to meet, and get these fantastic perspectives, from industry leaders; however I myself would also need to develop these skills and build on domain expertise.  The most conventional option was to look at business school after a few years of working, but I was more passionate about geopolitics, foreign policy, and diplomacy.

As a business reporter in Singapore, I saw the intersection between geopolitics and macroeconomic events.  Decisions made by governments affected economies and the private sector.  Hence I realized that a program at Fletcher would provide the best of both worlds.  Like all prospective students, I cast my net wide, applying to a host of business and international affairs school.  But the acceptance from Fletcher made all the difference.  Not only was Fletcher the first to accept me, but the outreach from the Admissions Office, current students, and alumni was so welcoming and hospitable.  My visit to campus as an admit sealed the deal.  I understood just why Fletcher epitomizes community.

Me on the left, interviewing a tour guide in the city of Mumbai, India.

This was back in 2016, however a sudden family emergency — the prospect of applying for my permanent residence in Singapore — weighed down on my decision to start in fall of 2016.  The only viable option was to request an unlikely deferral.  And to my surprise back then, the Admissions Office understood my predicament and ensured that I was able to defer my admission to 2017.

Staying on for another year in Singapore provided by far my most fulfilling professional year.  I moved to a new team at work, where I got to do longer and more in-depth business stories and travel to India to report on a country special episode.

At TEDx NTU in Singapore in October 2016.

In addition to my work, I was invited last year to give a TEDx talk at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore on journalism and was fortunate to moderate high-level panel discussions on media, technology, millennial employees, and smart cities across a range of events.

Then of course, the time came to be “shipping up to Boston.”  Having lived for seven years on the equator, the only weather change I was used to was between rain or no rain.  Moving from the tropical warmth of Southeast Asia to the blistering blizzards of New England was going to be a challenge.  But if anything, the warmth of the Fletcher community will be enough to fight off any New England cold.

For me, I refrain from referring to “grad school” since I feel it homogenizes Fletcher with all other grad schools.  Fletcher epitomizes diversity, like no other.  The diversity isn’t just in terms of nationalities represented (though, the Hall of Flags shows that).  The diversity at Fletcher is in terms of backgrounds, thought processes, and interests.

From human rights, to climate change, to gender studies, to energy, to diplomacy, to security studies, to understanding private sector merger & acquisition deals, there is truly something for everyone at Fletcher.  I feel positively overwhelmed with how much there is going on here.

Within my first few weeks, I was already co-chair of the ASEAN Club, taking up roles at Tech@Fletcher, a member of the Fletcher Political Risk Group, getting involved with the Murrow Center’s first televised bulletin, an Admissions ambassador, and interviewing experts for the Fletcher Security Review.

With Lord Michael Dobbs, Fletcher Alum and Author of House of Cards.

There is no normal day at Fletcher, although some days would include lunch and a political communications workshop with one of Fletcher’s finest alums — Lord Michael Dobbs, followed by a special guest lecture in class from a four-star general talking about national security decisions.

Fletcher’s biggest asset is truly its community.  From Fletcher’s Annual Faculty and Staff Waits On You Dinner, where faculty and staff don aprons and scurry along, carrying dishes to serve their students, to Fletcher Feasts, where students are randomly assigned to a host to break bread (sometimes literally) in the comfort of a home-cooked meal hosted by one of their own classmates, to when a professor opens up his house to students for a lazy Saturday afternoon picnic.  Or the creativity of students at Fletcher to come up with an open-mic night for the melodic voices, the amateur guitarists, and even for intimate poems and stories.

One of my best memories pertaining to Fletcher reflects the community, and came before I enrolled.  I met with Dr. Shashi Tharoor, F76, in Singapore, an Indian parliamentarian, former UN Diplomat and author — one of Fletcher’s best-known alumni.  As busy as he is, he simply said that when a Fletcher connection reaches out, he makes time for them.  That’s the meaning of community!

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